Tipperary grandmother Marie Gleeson has spoken of her 24-hour ordeal lying on a trolley overnight in a corridor in University Hospital Limerick emergency department.
Her comments came as doctors and nurses continued to work in seriously cramped conditions at the hospital today as a record 92 patients languished on trolleys.
The €25m state of the art emergency department was opened in June 2017, but is continually overcrowded as it is the only 24-hour ED in a region with a catchment of nearly 400,000 across Limerick city and county, Clare, Tipperary and parts of North Cork.
“People are looking for somewhere to sit down. I’m in since 3pm yesterday. I got a trolley at 3am this morning,” said Ms Gleeson, 68.
Praising the hospital’s staff, she added:
“It’s a disgrace that they’re run off their feet in here, and there’s not enough beds, and not enough facilities.”
“As individuals and citizens we are entitled to proper treatment, aren’t we? But were not getting it.”
“The staff are lovely and very experienced, but last night it was hectic. I’ve been sitting on a trolley in a corridor in A&E, and it’s so uncomfortable, I’ve pains in my back and shoulders.”
She continued: “People are on drips sitting on chairs. (Staff) are bringing trolleys from one area to another and there’s no room to stand.”
Only one family member per patient is being allowed into the ED as doctors and nurses tried desperately to offer the best care despite the conditions.
“I feel frustrated, angry. I’d nearly be better off at home; I’d get more rest. Yet, I want to try and get it over and done with, because I’m a carer, looking after elderly people,” Ms Gleeson.
Another 87-year old man who presented with dizziness at 9am Tuesday, revealed how he had managed to get “two hours sleep” in the “30 hours” he had spent on a trolley on a corridor.
Despite the ordeal, he said he had to defend staff who had taken the brunt of patients’ frustrations overnight: “I told (the other patients) not to be getting angry or anxious with the doctors and nurses, because they are up all night watching us, and that’s a tough job; that’s what I told them.”
Nurses and doctors administered treatment to patients with barely room for them to stand amongst the carpet of trolleys.
At 8am, 81 patients were on trolleys, in the ED and on wards.
Mary Forgarty, local Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) representative, said the “true figure” increased to 92 by midday.
“Overcrowding is epidemic, I don't have words for it. It’s demoralising,” Ms Fogarty said.
“Doctors are examining patients on corridors and nurses are trying to administer care on the corridors. It’s dangerous.”
Ms Forgarty claimed efforts by UHL, which opened 22 beds to offset 17 recent bed closures, was not good enough.
“Yes they’ve opened up some new services, but they need at least 160 beds in here. It’s not working at all,” she said.
Staff were concerned for patient safety as trolleys were blocking fire exists, she claimed.
“I was on every ward today and (staff) are all raising fire safety issues, the safety of patients, the safety of staff,” she added.
Professor Paul Burke, Clinical Director, UHL, rejected the claims.
Speaking to RTE Prof Burke he added: “It’s not a crisis, it is something we deal with all the time and we have to deal with.”
Professor Burke urged the public that, unless it was absolutely necessary, they should avoid the ED and instead present at local injury units which are operating in the region.
Limerick Sinn Fein TD, Maurice Quinlivan described the overcrowding at UHL as complete “chaos”.
The Government has allocated €2m for enabling works for a proposed €19.5m temporary 60-bed inpatient block at UHL.
Management has also sought funding for a permanent 96-bed unit, however the Government has yet to sign off on the plan.
Nationally, 594 admitted patients were waiting for beds - of which 432 were waiting in emergency departments, while 162 are on wards.
The second worst hit hospital today is Cork University Hospital where there are 50 patients on trolleys, and thirdly, University Hospital Galway with 43 on trolleys.
Meanwhile, Mary Fogarty, Limerick INMO representative, said she was contacted by an “exhausted nurse” highlighting her frustrations of trying to care for patients on overcrowded wards at University Hospital Limerick.
Ms Fogarty said she received correspondence from the nurse after she was concerned about patient safety at the cramped hospital.
“How can we provide safe nursing and dignified care to extra patients on our ward, on top of our already gruelling workload, with no facilities like oxygen, curtains, lack of pillows etc,” the nurse asked.
Privacy is not an option! Any trolley is disgraceful, however when three trolleys are blocking pathways/exits surely this is a health and safety issue.
In response to the general overcrowding problem, a UHL spokesperson said there had been a “surge” of attendances at the hospital.
This had been “above average”, they said.
“In the 24 hours up to midnight on Tuesday, that number was 236. At 8am on Wednesday, April 3rd, there were 39 admitted patients waiting for a bed,” the spokesperson added.
Highlighting infection control procedures at the hospital, the spokesperson stated: “In addition, there were a further 13 patients appropriately isolated in single rooms within the ED.
"A shortage of appropriate isolation facilities elsewhere in the hospital makes this the best solution for proper infection prevention and control and in the interests of all patients.”
“Patients requiring isolation facilities will also be transferred to a ward as soon as an appropriate room is available.”
“UHL has just over 450 inpatient beds; this is recognised as not being sufficient for the needs of the MidWest Region,” the spokesperson said.
Despite highlighting improved privacy measures in the new ED, the spokesperson said it was “acknowledged that there are not sufficient designated spaces to meet demand within the context of the overall bed capacity issues in the hospital and that patients do not always get the degree of privacy they rightly expect”.
They urged the public to “consider all their care options at this time and not to attend the Emergency Department unless necessary”.
“Injury Units are open in Ennis and Nenagh Hospitals from 8am to 8pm, Monday to Sunday and 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday at St. John's Hospital (Limerick).”
Responding to a report by the journal.ie that the Minister for Health is to raise a “significant discrepancy” over figures of patients on trolleys at University Hospital Limerick, local INMO industrial relations officer Mary Fogarty said the union “would welcome any investigation by the minister”.
The official INMO trolley watch figures stated that at 8am this morning there were 81 patients on trolleys at UHL.
Ms Fogarty stated there were “92 patients” on trolleys by midday.
In a statement this Wednesday evening a spokesperson for UHL said: “At 8am on Wednesday, April 3rd, there were 39 admitted patients waiting for a bed. In addition, there were a further 13 patients appropriately isolated in single rooms within the ED.”